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Civics in Digital Life: Lesson Plans for Grades 8-12

Free lessons and activities to spark students' curiosity, critical thinking, and civic engagement.

Daniel Vargas Campos | June 21, 2022

As the first true group of digital natives, Gen Z has regularly experienced both the challenges and opportunities that media and technology present. They're a unique generation, eager to defy the status quo to drive societal change. With technology at their fingertips and regularly in their hands, they're often more open-minded and eager to advocate for a better world -- both for themselves and for generations to come. But to do so, they'll need the skills and dispositions to use technology in meaningful and effective ways.

With our Civics in Digital Life lessons, you can help your students consider important topics that cut across news and media literacy, digital citizenship, social and emotional learning (SEL), and civics. Designed for upper-middle school and high school students, these learning activities focus on identity development, perspective-taking, and civil discourse, ultimately promoting a deeper sense of civic agency and engagement.

Check out the first set of Civics in Digital Life lessons below.

Civics in Digital Life: Lesson Plans

New Lessons Coming Soon!

Information & Misinformation

Civil & Uncivil Discourse

Civic Participation Online

Civic Speech & Hate Speech

Online Activism & Self-Care

How to use our Civics in Digital Life lessons in your classroom:

Each lesson deep dive has three independent parts. You can string them together, or teach them independently to complement other parts of your curriculum. 

Quick Activity (20 minutes)
The quick activity is centered around a topical video and accompanying discussion questions. This is a great way to get the conversation started with your students in a low-stakes, low-prep kind of way!

Dilemma Discussion (45 minutes)
The dilemma discussion is a way to go deeper on a topic, acknowledging that digital life is complicated. Through this teacher-guided discussion, students practice self-reflection, active listening, perspective-taking, and civil discourse.

Media Creation (time varies by project)
Civic agency is the ultimate goal here. Once students have the knowledge and skills, it's time for them to decide on a course of action that feels positive and productive. Media creation is meant to amplify youth voices and promote civic participation.

Why teaching news and media literacy is important: What the research says

You've seen the headlines: "Most young people today just don't have the media literacy skills to take part in democracy." Based on our report, Teens and the News 2020, only 55% of kids age 10 to 18 felt they could tell if a news story is fake. Moreover, TikTok and YouTube are growing as top news sources for kids, with 77% saying they get news and headlines from social media.

Misinformation and fake news continue to infiltrate online platforms, as have conspiracy theories, which tend to gain popularity during times of crisis -- like during a global pandemic, political crisis, or war. Additionally, as young people spend more of their time online, they're witnessing, and perhaps even participating in, online incivility, as evidenced by the ongoing rise in hate speech, trolling, and cancel culture. Use these lessons to empower students to harness the power of technology to be curious learners, critical thinkers, and engaged citizens.

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.